Canadian Winter Wardrobe: Outdoor Edition

Early winter conditions kicked in last week, so it’s time to assess my winter wardrobe. The Nova Scotia tourism site says our mid-December to mid-March temperatures are 0 to -15C.

I don’t do any winter recreation. My only outdoor time is scraping frost off the car windshield and shovelling snow. However, since I have a new job close to home, I plan to walk to and from work, a 3 km round trip, 15 minutes each way. Unless the wind chill is unbearable.

Winter Gear

My everyday winter outdoor wear is:

  • Hooded “fashion” parka ($150 in 2010)
  • Warm lined rubber boots ($100, this year)
  • Hiking boots ($100, this year)
  • Hats, scarves, mittens ($31 for 3 hats, $15 for 1 scarf, rest were gifts)
  • Gloves – not shown ($40 for Isotoner driving gloves – not very warm – lots more were gifts)

Rain Suit

If the weather is wet (snow, rain or mix), I have a rain suit:

  • Waterproof jacket with hood and polar fleece liner
  • Waterproof pants

Bought as a set for $85 at Costco, 8 years ago

Coat

And for somewhat dressier occasions I have:

  • Short double-breasted wool coat ($40 great deal, 7 years ago)
  • Short boots with a bit of a heel ($42, 8 years ago)

So I am fairly well-equipped for a Canadian winter for $600.

When I lived in Saskatchewan I had a long wool coat for the -20 to -40 days.

Photo: canadagooseonline

Bomber jacket only $595! Photo: canadagooseonline

I am frustrated with my “fashion parka” because the fill is part down and part feathers, and the feathers keep coming through the jacket. Next time I will check the label properly! I am tempted to buy a Canada Goose parka and may feel I “require” one because of walking to work now, but I will resist. At $650 they are worth more than the rest of my winter gear combined, so it’s not happening!

Wretchedly impractical but drool-worthy boots (Photo: bunow.com)

Wretchedly impractical but drool-worthy boots (Photo: bunow.com)

If I were going to update my outdoor gear, I would add brown accessories to my teal wool coat. This is Link’s favourite colour combination and I have grown to like it. I don’t have any tall dressy boots right now, and if I hadn’t bought two pairs of boots this year, I would be out looking for brown riding boots! Or any tall fashion boots, really…

If I am outside for a long time, like when I am shovelling snow from the driveway, I might wear layers including a lightweight long sleeve T-shirt, tights, boot socks, and mini-gloves under my mitts!

If you are in a cold climate, what are your winter outdoor essentials? Do you go for brand names?

42 comments

  1. Boy, winters in Canada are truly COLD. Winters in Melbourne tend to have temperatures ranging from 0-12 degrees Celsius, but more often 5-15. And even then, I wrap myself up in woolies — long woollen coat, scarf, and gloves. I love tall dressy boots too. There was a period here when they went right up to covering the knees. I never got them, because their prices were enough to bring me to my knees. 🙂 Like Link, I love the teal and brown combination. And no, I don’t go for brands. Unless they’re on crazy specials. And I mean CRAZY. 🙂

  2. Wow I’m sort of surprised this is enough for the cold you’re describing – as you know we live in nice temperate weather! When I moved to France, I bought a Lands End coat rated to some ridiculous weather, so I would be right – it’s great in snow, but it seldom snowed where I was, so I bought a fashion wool coat which is pretty darn amazing! So many coats in Australia are synthetic, and don’t seem to hold up to proper cold! I’ve still got the same coat since 2006, so it’s been a worthwhile purchase!

    • Like most Canadians, I don’t wear my winter jackets or coats until the temperatures get down around 0. It helps us acclimatize and prevents us from having to buy a second set of gear for “really cold” temperatures!

  3. Fiona

    There’s only been a handful of days in my entire life that I have experienced sub-zero temperatures (and all of them were travelling to places other than Melbourne!) Like Sarah, I’m really surprised that this gear is considered “enough” to survive such extremes. I just assumed everyone in Canada would buy branded, “outdoor performance wear” like that North Face store. I would shop exclusively at North Face to buy survival-wear if I lived in Canada, lol!

    • It is a tough transition when people move here from a warmer climate. But it does tend to get colder gradually from Nov to Dec so we can build up our tolerance. On both coasts, our weather is so much milder than the Prairies or the Arctic, so we feel like wusses if we complain. We don’t feel we need technical gear. I suppose it would be different if I was a meter reader or forest ranger and had to be outdoors all day!

  4. Apparently the winter temps here are roughly between -10C (at night) and 10C. It does get colder than that (although I live in a fairly mild part of the UK, so not very often here!) We don’t heavy proper snowfalls every winter, but we have for the last few years. It usually melts after a week or two, though.
    We’ve had a really mild autumn, but in the last couple of days, winter has really arrived! For winter walks, my wardrobe is fairly similar to my summer one, just with more layers! I get really hot when I start walking, so I try not to wrap up too much! I have walking boots, and wellies for deep snow/mud. I have a ‘nice’ grey coat (think it has some wool in it) and a hand me down Barbour (something like this http://www.barbour.com/All-Collections/Womens/Waxed-Jackets/Classic-Beadnell-Waxed-Jacket/p/LWX0244OL7110?breadcrumbs=barbour-originals&breadcrumbs=barbour-originals only much more battered and worn!) which is good if it is cold and wet. I have a light waterproof jacket for when it is just wet. Other than that, layers of knitted things (jumpers, scarves, snoods, hats, gloves) keep me cosy.
    I’m going to be walking to work this winter too, so I shall be testing my walking wardrobe out!

    • You have a proper wardrobe for winter! Mine is similar except we tend to layer in spring and fall, and add big thick waterproof coats for winter! Rom’s parents are in the UK (southeast) and there has been a lot of snow there for the past 3 years. Our average Dec/Jan temperature is -1 to +1 and in their part of the UK it is about 4 or 5.

  5. Another surprised reader. I expected more layers, though I think you get used to your local weather. When we have visitors from Europe, we often say it is too cold to swim and they look at like we’re mad, and dive into or pool.

    I know you’re not into clutter, but I’d have more coats. I love coats and have to remind myself that I don’t need many. That said, our houses and schools are often not built for cold weather, so, as a teacher, I have to have warm clothes for winter. I’ve never been in -15, the lowest I have been in is -2 and with a wind chill a bit lower. I start shivering, and put the central heating on, if it is lower than 15 degrees.

    Just realised what I expected and that is missing from your list – thermals. I see you wear tights and t-shirts if outside for a longer time. Don’t you own/wear/see the need for them?

    • Here’s the difference – I just don’t spend that much time outdoors. 5 minutes to clear off the car in the morning and that’s it. Shovelling snow once a week. If I really enjoyed winter, I’d be outdoors every day and have more gear. I would like to buy a set of thermals but I’d only need them if I was outside for a couple of hours, maybe at a New Year’s Eve outdoor concert! I always keep the house warm – I am willing to wear one long-sleeve Tshirt and one heavy sweater indoors, but if I am still cold after that, I crank up the heat further!

  6. Does being indoors so much get you down or are you an indoors-type person anyway? Your level of coldness is so outside my experience that I find it difficult to get my head around it. We have thermals for our one week, once a year down the snow – which is in the moutains down south and the only place we get snow, if we’re lucky. Even in winter here in Sydney our students are outside in the playground at break times. At most schools, there’s no indoor space for them besides the library. But then we have few days where it is less than 12°C during the day.

    • Yeah, I am an indoors person. In good weather I go for walks and do yard work and gardening, but it’s not something I “crave.” When I had a kid at home, I was outdoors more (swimming, skating, sledding) but I prefer the sportsplex now 🙂 Although I do like walking in the woods, a bit of hiking, and walking on the beach.

  7. Eekkk your post reminded me that I dont miss winters at all in the Pacific Northwest. My winter clothes are still boxed in the garage and yesterday was 75 degrees! I do miss wearing boots though.

  8. Jodi

    My winter collection includes a Suede fleece lined coat for a dressy look and I bought a parka that is a little longer to wear to work or if I am walking. I have two winter hats, including one with ear muffs, two scarves and three sets of glove/mitts. I also have two pairs of boots. Again one for dressy and one for everyday. I do own a waterproof lined North Face jacket, but it is more for fall weather. Here in Ontario, our weather is very similar to yours,

    • Hi Jodi! My parka really could be a little longer. But I would never buy a short bomber-style one. When my Costco waterproof jacket wears out (I’ve gone through another one previously), I might look at a more technical jacket like North Face if it could get me through 3 seasons. Your coat sounds nice!

  9. I have a similar setup – a wool pea coat that I wear as long as possible, and then a down coat for the “heart” of winter (usually December through mid-March), plus a hat, gloves, and thick socks. The most important thing for me is to keep my toes and ears warm. I’m miserable otherwise!

    • For me it’s hands. I avoid wearing a hat as much as I can, which I am sure is not smart (but I am not outdoors much). Do you have a long down coat? Sounds good!

      • My down coat is about mid-hip, which I like because it doesn’t impact my gait like some long coats do. I don’t like cold hands either, but I feel like mine are always cold, even inside. They’re a lost cause 🙂

      • Ha ha! My hands, too! I never thought about the drawbacks of long coats, but that is it exactly.

  10. I just can’t imagine it being so cold, even when I go to the snow here in winter, it’s only about – 5 C !

  11. You know if you lived in a warm climate you wouldn’t wear a t-shirt all year. When I’ve been to the tropics in their winter, ie cooler weather, they feel it is cooler and put on layers. I, on the other hand, am thinking how can anyone wear jeans in this! I have family who moved north and within two years their winter was cold for them. Same, in reverse, for friends who moved from the colder in-land to Sydney. For two winters they thought it was warm, and thought we were wimps for packing away our sandals in winter. Two years later, they felt the cold.

    Do you think our blood changes? Or just the registration by our mind?

    • I lived in Saskatchewan for 7 years where the average daytime winter temperature was -20 and there were weeks of -40. Since -20 was normal, kids walked to school and went sledding and skiing like it was nothing. The difference was that everyone took the cold seriously and dressed appropriately. Also, the climate was extremely dry. When I moved back to Nova Scotia, -10 still felt cold – because on the coast, it is very humid. Meanwhile, Rom moved here from the UK and he took 2-3 years to acclimate. He still wears hats, gloves and boots far earlier in the season than long-time residents, but he can stay out in the cold much longer now.

  12. laura

    I hate the cold and can’t imagine leaving a house in -15 lol.

    I’m surprised that you don’t have the ‘full works’ coat – perhaps now that you’re walking to work you may consider it! I’m considering buying a North Face coat just for our (not that cold really) winters! I’m a wuss!

    • You’re right, I’m waiting to see what it will be like walking to work. Our temperatures average 0 by mid-day, but it’s often -10 overnight and it takes a long time to climb! We usually have a week or two of -10 to -20 (daytime) in January. I usually find a wool coat is fine for that as long as you aren’t playing in the snow and getting wet!

  13. EcoCatLady

    I fear warm jackets are my downfall… I have WAY more than I probably need. But the thing is, there’s a BIG difference between 30F (0C) and -20F )-29C) and I have to be ready for all of it! So I have several jackets, some are fleece lined, some are down… my heftiest is an enormous down parka that comes down to my knees, but I’ve also got one that’s short-waisted. I also have tall sheepskin ug boots for the snow, and warm rubber boots for when it’s warm enough for it to be wet.

    But what I don’t own is anything fashionable. I keep thinking I’d like to own a nice wool coat and maybe some dress boots, but the reality is that it probably wouldn’t be terribly practical since I don’t really have any place to wear them on a regular basis. But if I had a place to wear them, I’d LOVE to get a pair of tall Birkenstock boots.

    • I’d like to have a whole wardrobe full of boots, but just one high-tech, long cold weather parka might be nice! Are you outdoors much in the winter?

      • EcoCatLady

        It depends. I used to ski but don’t anymore. I like to walk to the store even in the wintertime because I just feel yucky if I don’t get to spend time outside every day. I’m hoping to get to bike more this winter but I don’t think I’m brave enough to try it in really cold weather – plus there’s usually snow on the ground here when it’s really cold. But I did invest in a new winter cycling jacket along with winter bike shoe covers so we’ll see how I do!

      • When you buy the equipment you’ve bought the obligation, LOL!

  14. My winter essentials … don’t go outside!! LOL You are a brave one for walking 3 kms in the cold.

  15. Lisa

    -20 F isn’t uncommon here. i layer Cuddle duds long underwear all winter along with a long sleeve shirt and fleece. I will buy brand name, on sale off season, as it is just so much more durable and better made.

    • We only have a week or two of -20 each year. I looked up Cuddl Duds – you’ve been able to get them in Canada? When I don’t know what brand to buy in things like that, I’ll usually go with Mark’s Work Wearhouse brand!

  16. jamielredmond

    I am interested to see how we cope in the coming year. We are moving to Australia’s Snowy Mountains, having spent the past nine years living in one of the hotter, drier parts of the country. Although my husband and I grew up in a similar climate to the mountains it will be a big change to what we’ve gotten used to over the years in our current location. And we moved here when our eldest was one, so it will be interesting to see what our children say!
    I am already seeing quite a difference in climate. My husband has moved to the mountains ahead of us. Last night it was 2C there, 22C here, one week out from summer. I may never swim again!

    • What a shock! In my experience, most people don’t like moving to a colder climate, unless they are outdoorsy types who like hiking, winter sports, or at least photography! On the other hand, you’ll have lots of excuses to stay indoors and be cozy!

  17. Lisa

    After living in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories for 6 years, I am well equipped to deal with any extreme winter (although not much call for the stuff in Ontario). When temperatures frequent the -30s to -40s for weeks on end (-52 C was the coldest I experienced), you buy quality and that meant Canada Goose for me! My CG coat is more than 6 years old and still going strong, and I wore it daily from late November to April. Luckily, since they are so expensive, we were able to purchase our coats with my husband’s employee discount with Canada Goose. My boots are Pajar, which were made in Quebec. Again, expensive, but rated for -70 C (take that with a grain of salt) and have a shearling lining. They are 5 years old.

    I also believe in owning a Gortex coat. Nothing repels water, while wicking away moisture like Gortex. That keeps you warm. I would highly recommend the investment to you, especially walking to work. Gortex is often layered with fleece, which has no problem combating down to -10 C temperatures. Gortex, wool and down products are recommended by me, but then I do spend time outside for play and/or work everyday.

    I have made a recent mistake in a purchase of a wool blend dress coat. It was on sale for a fabulous price, but after only 1.5 winters, the zipper broke and 2 buttons have fallen off! I should have stuck with a quality wool coat.

    • Hi Lisa, I was hoping to get some Northern advice, thanks! I have also heard that the Canada Goose parkas are perfect for the true North but not necessary for us Southerners. I looked up the Pajar boots and they look most impressive! Fortunately, my “rain suit” does have a Gortex jacket with a zip-out fleece lining. It was intended as winter wear. In cold weather and especially in wet snow, I use that one because it blocks wind and water. I’m hoping it will be good enough for walking to work. My cheap wool coat is holding up well, but of course it can’t get very wet. The temperatures this week went down to -5 so we’ll see how it goes!

  18. Lisa

    Yes, I think their parkas are overkill for a number of areas in Canada (e.g., Toronto). For some reason, despite their expense, they have become a fashion item in the cities, and CG has responded with toned-down version of their coats while keeping the hefty price-tags. I have been contemplating selling our coats since they seem so trendy here and we really don’t wear them now. I only pulled mine out a few times last winter when the windchills hit -30 C, but otherwise it stayed in the closet. Should have sold them and the down snowpants in Yellowknife before we left!

    Good luck with walking to work – you can do it, especially if you can find what to wear to make yourself comfortable! I loved walking to work. Believe it or not, Yellowknife has one of the highest percentages of people walking/biking to work year round! I actually liked walking to work better than driving in the winter because, if dressed appropriately, my body movement warmed me up, but the car never did due to the short distances driving and the cold temperatures (also hard on the car).

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